Of the countless plays and musicals that have been performed in Daehak-ro, those that do not offer any distinctive features struggle to survive. The musical With You Forever does not have a plot, well-known actors, or a grand stage, but still makes the best out of what it does have to wring tears out of the audience. The play tells the story of a man who is hesitating to propose to his girlfriend, while the musical celebrates the beauty of love, whether it be between lovers or within a family.
Based on a true story, the musical With You Forever was first introduced to audiences in 2014 in several regions within Korea and has also been performed as a regular play. In the three years since its premiere, the total attendance has topped 100,000. Five characters appear in the play: the main characters Kim Jin Woo and Oh Soo Ji, who are lovers, Jin Woo’s father, Soo Ji’s aunt, and a “multi-man,” who acts out several different roles. In a small theater where the stage and the seats are only a meter apart, the five actors act, sing, and dance fervently for 100 minutes.
Love, Loneliness, and Family
Jin Woo and Soo Ji have been dating for 10 years since they were in high school, and Soo Ji is waiting for her boyfriend to propose to her so that they can marry. When Jin Woo finally decides to propose to Soo Ji, he suddenly finds out that he has a brain tumor and that there is not much time left for him to spend with his loved ones. He hides his illness at first and goes on a trip with his father, Soo Ji, and Soo Ji’s aunt. While walking along the beach with Soo Ji, Jin Woo collapses and gets taken to hospital.
In fact, the plot itself is not distinctive enough to stand out from all the other plays in Daehak-ro. A promising future full of pleasure, a sudden terminal illness, and undefeated eternal love are common features that can be found in numerous Korean dramas and plays. However, the way With You Forever presents it to the audience is notable. It includes musical numbers so that the audience never gets bored, and it actively utilizes the multi-man role to overcome the small number of actors.
The play With You Forever focuses on three relationships among the five actors: Jin Woo and Soo Ji, the father and aunt, and Jin Woo and his father. The unconditional love between Jin Woo and Soo Ji touches the hearts of the couples in the audience. The lonely situation facing the father and aunt arouses sympathy, and the father’s wish for his son’s survival brings tears to the audience members’ eyes.
▲ Provided by Harvard Crimson.
Too Much Water Drowned the Miller
One of the charms of watching With You Forever is watching the multi-man perform, who fulfills several roles. When the multi-man appears on stage, the audience recognizes that it is time to laugh. The multi-man changes his clothes and appearance, becoming a friend of Jin Woo, the food cart owner, a bully, and even a shaman. The multiman’s endless makeovers and his ebullient acting definitely make the audience laugh, but by the end of the play, this acts as a drawback.
In the hospital, where the emotions of the main characters reach a climax, the audience needs time to empathize with the actors. However, the multi-man, disguised as a minister, a monk, and a shaman, breaks the story’s flow. His comic acting had no connection with the story’s climax, and it relies on the same type of humor, meaning the comical character is not entertaining at all. The excessive use of the multi-man without any link to the main plot is the biggest area left for improvement.
A Musical Without Proper Music
Another problem is that, despite being a musical, the stage does not have a suitable sound system. The volume of the actors singing was inharmonious, especially when all five were singing together. For example, the voice of the actress was much louder than that of the actor singing the melody in their first song. The actors were sometimes off beat because they do not have in-ear monitors, which is essential for singers to be able to listen to their own singing and that of the accompanying singers.
When reserving their ticket, many from the audience would have expected something more than just an amateur musical. In fact, the actors themselves have beautiful voices and were skilled enough to deliver their emotions through their singing. However, the microphones, speakers, and other audio devices failed to support the talented singers, which is the fault of the small theater and low budget. To be a true musical, the producers should have considered investing in equipment to the same degree that they cared for the acting.
The play overall is still praiseworthy in the sense that they made the best out of a conventional plot and limited resources using their own style. However, the audience, who may have expected a well-made musical with good sound quality, may feel dissatisfied. Although the message of the play generates sympathy, as both a play and a musical, With You Forever still has a long way to go. If the producers and the actors have a greater motivation to succeed, they should acknowledge their shortcomings and work on improving on them.
▲ The Musical Crew. Photographed by Oh Ju Shin.
Venue: Daehak-ro Hansung Art Hall 2
Date: From August 11 to December 31
Running Time: 100 minutes
Ticket Price: 50,000 won. Student discounts available